The former Sri Lankan Government, over a 5-month period in 2014, allegedly paid USD 6.5 million directly and indirectly to US-based WR Group and a private equity fund manager, Imaad Zuberi, the Foreign Policy magazine reported.
Imaad Zuberi, age 45, is a an elite political fundraiser. He was among the top tier of bundlers for US President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, meaning he delivered $500,000 or more in contributions. He’s already among Clinton’s “Hillblazers,” bundling $100,000 for her presidential campaign in its first months.
Among the perks of delivering that much money to candidates is access to them, and advertising that access caught the eye of those who wanted some of it for themselves.
The Sri Lankan government, long under fire for official corruption and at a low point in its relations with Washington, did just that. Over a five-month period in 2014, it paid Zuberi $4.5 million directly — plus another $2 million to a company he co-owns — for consulting services which included influencing the U.S. government, according to documents obtained by Foreign Policy.
Zuberi’s windfall was not disclosed to the Justice Department, as required under federal law, and the lobbying and public relations firms hired through his company to influence the U.S. government on Sri Lanka’s behalf have all received DOJ subpoenas, according to a senior government official. Justice is seeking public assets allegedly stolen from Sri Lanka. None of the firms is a target of the investigation, which is focused on members of the family of the country’s former president and has not been previously reported.
According to the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, paid representatives of foreign governments — even if they outsource the actual lobbying to other organizations — must disclose those relationships to Justice “within ten days” of acquiring a foreign client, according to the statute. WR Group, the company that held the contract with Sri Lanka, never registered with the Justice Department. Zuberi, who billed the government on May 5, 2014, for his services and received his first payment of $3.5 million from Sri Lanka on May 9, 2014, didn’t register as a consultant until Aug. 14 of that year, well beyond the 10-day deadline. Violating the act carries maximum penalties of a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.
“[W]e are not a lobbying firm, law firm, nor PR firm, therefore we do not engage in these activities because these are not our core competencies,” Zuberi wrote in response to detailed questions from FP. “I registered not as a lobbyist but as a consultant because that was the extent of my involvement.”
In May 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Sri Lanka to pledge U.S. support for the administration of President Maithripala Sirisena, who came to power this past January, unseating former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose government is alleged to have stolen as much as $10 billion over the decade he was in power. In prepared remarks, Kerry promised assistance from U.S. investigators and prosecutors to find money transferred to the United States. According to a government official familiar with the case, the U.S. team sent to Sri Lanka noted the payments to Zuberi and WR Group; the subpoenas to the lobbying firms are part of the effort to trace money misappropriated by the Rajapaksa regime. (Colombo Gazette)